Incidents of upskirting have been reported to the police at a rate of nearly one a day in the six months since the creation of the new law banning the practice - with schoolchildren and a 74-year-old among the victims.
Upskirting, defined as the act of covertly filming or taking a picture under a person’s skirt without gaining their consent, was made a criminal offence in England and Wales in April.
The offence now carries a punishment of up to two years in custody under the Voyeurism Act and the most serious cases see wrongdoers placed on the sex offenders’ register.
Data obtained under Freedom of Information laws by the Press Association found the number of incidents being reported to police had significantly increased since the law came in.
The figures from 35 police forces found there had been 153 incidents reported to them in the 182 days since the law was created.
This was up from 94 incidents among 25 constabularies with available data in 2018, the year before the legislation was implemented, and up from 78 reports over the two years from April 2015 to April 2017.
The vast majority of incidents between April and October 2019 involved female victims and happened in schools, shopping centres and other public places.
But the number of upskirting allegations is likely to be much higher because not all of the 43 police forces agreed to provide information on upskirting. The Metropolitan Police, the country’s largest constabulary, refused to do so.
Several forces reported teenage victims among those caught up in investigations – with Sussex Police saying a 14-year-old girl on a bus was among the victims.
Avon and Somerset Police said a 74-year-old woman was among those targeted by upskirting.
Gina Martin, a 27-year-old writer who spent 18 months fighting to make upskirting a specific offence after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017 and the incident went unpunished, applauded the new figures.
The campaigner told The Independent her own experience of upskirting was “completely humiliating and violating”.
“People will not understand the feeling of knowing someone has had their hands between your legs and taken a photo of your crotch,” Ms Martin said. “It takes away your bodily autonomy and there is something which lives on outside of the initial harassment. There is a sense of powerlessness. Even till this day, those guys probably still have the photos of me.”
She added: “Upskirting is a very covert form of sexual harassment which is often brought to the attention of the police by bystanders rather than the victim. Lots of victims will never be aware it has ever happened to them.”
Women, teenage girls and younger girls have been in touch with her to tell her the negative effect upskirting has had on their mental health, the activist said.
Ms Martin said the numbers of offences reported to the police before her campaign was in no way indicative of the scale of the problem – explaining the official figures did not reflect the swathes of women who had contacted her to say they had experienced upskirting.
She said she was aware of upskirting images and footage being distributed on social media platforms and amateur porn sites.
The campaigner noted a convicted paedophile and a man who police subsequently found had 250,000 indecent images of children were among those who have been charged with upskirting.
She said: “It shows different elements of sexual violence are interconnected and why it is important not to dismiss the more everyday types of sexual violence. It joins up the dots between sexual violence and assaults. The numbers of people coming forward to report upskirting will continue to rise.”
Ms Martin added that, before the campaign, the public was unaware of what the act entailed, that it was a crime, or that it was even happening.
Until the law changed, victims were forced to seek prosecution under existing harassment, voyeurism or indecency laws, but loopholes meant it was often difficult to secure a conviction.
Dorset Police said the youngest victim reported to them was aged between 10 and 18, but refused to provide further information.
Some 10 men were convicted of 16 upskirting offences in 2019, figures from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) showed.
This included convicted paedophile Stuart Bulling, the first person jailed under the new law, after he was caught following teenage girls around a supermarket in Lancashire, in September.
Trevor Beasley, 51, was also jailed, for filming under women’s skirts in Burgh Heath, Surrey. Police subsequently found 250,000 indecent images of children on his devices.
Additional reporting by Press Association
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